At this point of the year, you cannot think of the future. From making a wild guess to taking calculated risks will be occupying significant mindshare. And the outlook, as analysts say is ‘Cautious Optimism’. There are reasons to believe that 2019 will be a better year, yet, there’s a hold-back on account of uncertainty in the environment. This is why trends in 2019 become a very interesting topic.
The international climate isn’t sunny. Brexit is threatening to break up Europe, which is already facing economic and social challenges. There’s no trump in the policies of US towards rest of the world, and Indian IT firms specifically, are nervous about their visa rules. China and US seem to be readying for a political and commercial stand-off which can upset the global balance of trade. Generally, all big nations are grappling with global warming, technology’s over-arching presence and snooping into the privacy of individuals, and rising unemployment.
India too has been witnessing turbulences - its currency against the US dollar dropped to a historic low – boon to exporters, read as IT companies - inflationary trends in commodities and other essential goods, and a volatile stock market. This also being an election year, and the prospects of no political party getting a clear majority, makes businesses worry about the future. In this context, the possibility of established businesses getting disrupted by start-ups, and the disruptors themselves getting disrupted by certain government policies (recent government policy on online retail industry on deep discounting and exclusivity in product launches) makes the business sentiment sombre. It is in this context that one looks at how technology is expected to impact employment and corporate behaviour.
There are 4 trends that will change the business structures, roles and responsibilities and decision making at the leadership level. These trends are global too.
- Trend #1: Reducing Hierarchy & New Opportunities:
Organisations will shrink in size. Chipping away positions and by combining multiple roles into one, organisations will make some of the existing workforces redundant while also creating demand for new skills. Artificial Intelligence and concepts of industry 4.0 will impact manufacturing and services industries in terms of job openings – there will not be skills to fill the openings that organisations post. So, new employment opportunities will be created but unemployment will still be there!
Organisations will support agile and responsive structures that will be very lean. These lean organisations will form a chain for fulfillment. Through automation machines will perform predictable and complex and specialised tasks that are highly structured and have a predictable outcome. Speed and scale of operations of each organisation will be optimised and the revenues-to-headcount ratio will be much higher than before.
- Trend #2: Fuzzy Roles & Skills
Hitherto job descriptions enumerated the expectations from a role and its associated responsibilities. However, roles will get broad-based and their descriptions will be fuzzy, invoking a feeling ‘what I am doing now is different from what I was doing earlier‘ or ‘what was I hired for and what am I actually doing…’. Owing to agility and flexibility in the structure, roles will be fungible – no clear demarcation between start and end of roles. ‘Whatever it takes…’ will be the tone of job descriptions.
Middle management will feel the impact of fungibility the most. Roles will be complex, non-specific while responsibilities will be linked to an end-state – ‘must deliver…’ or ‘must achieve…’.
Fungibility of roles impact in two other ways. The first one is, support functions get subsumed into operations. This means the operations team will be responsible for hiring, team building, managing costs and margins, while also delivering quality products within the given time frame and ensuring customer satisfaction. Managing relationships with customers, suppliers and employees will blend with operational responsibilities of managers. Support functions as stand-alone departments will thin out – Quality, HR, Accounts, Help Desk, etc. will be impacted.
The second aspect is about responsibilities getting linked to business outcomes. The new thing here is the experience the manager goes through. Managers will have to discover the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ of performing tasks, perform them in a time-bound manner, in an environment that is rapidly changing. This is similar to a marksman firing at a moving target! There will be hits and misses, and all of them will feature in the performance appraisal! Managers will depend on technologies for contextual information for timely decision-making that will involve some out-of-the-box thinking. And this is where the role becomes fuzzy and challenging – the manager needs to be analytical and creative too. Analytical skills will be required to identify and understand the problem, and creative skills to-solve it.
- Trend #3: Decision Making Skills
While there’s a popular belief that analytics will drive the decision making in an organisation, in reality, top management will be taking decisions based on gut, instinct (intuition), discretion or judgement. There will be a high degree of subjectivity in decision-making at the highest level. Infact, leadership will show trend of individualism – decision taken is the signature of the person at the helm!
Dashboard based charts and trends and critically analysed data structures will act as props to a method of decision making that supports a thought process of ‘what analytics failed to reveal’ or spotting a missing data in the dashboard.
Decisions will not come from the presented data alone. They will come from spaces of subjectivity which need to be explained along with the assumptions and interpretations used in decision making. The CEO will actually be making judgement calls on the VUCA environment and depend on guess work about the unknown future.
- Trend #4: Relationship & Trust
Organisations will communicate more about their responsibilities towards society than about their products and achievements. Such a shift isn’t a marketing gimmick of repositioning but a clear strategy of the organisation to build and maintain trust within its eco-system.
Corporate openness and transparency of operations - be it on account of compliance factors or proliferation of data sharing - will see an active diffusion between its internal and external presence. CEO’s will be talking more about how they have not violated norms – environment, child labour, exploitation, etc.; have acted in the fairest manner at all times; have not been judgemental or biased in their conduct and have performed their duties with a strong sense of service towards the society at large.
In conclusion, 2019 will see disruptions of jobs, roles and dashboard-based decision making. Organisational structures will get flatter, roles will get more complex and smarter. Decision making at the highest level will require intuition, judgement, and gut besides refined and processed data. However, 2019 will also usher in a new order that will witness creation of jobs requiring a combination of analytical and creative skills (some refer to this as critical thinking), as well as being more responsible towards society at large and in preserving the natural resources.